Of course, it can be said that much has transpired in my forty intervening years – that we have, by the grace of engineers and scientists, entered the Age of Affluence. Yet is not Father Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame, correct when he reminds us (without reference to Thomas Aquinas) that to a hungry world we give the image of stored surpluses, better beers, and better cars; that our impact on the earth’s peoples outside of America is of a science and technology which makes us wealthy while they are poor, which makes us healthy while they are diseased, that houses us in palaces while they are in shacks? “We may think to win them,” says Father Hesburgh, “by the dazzling performance of putting men into space, but this meager inspiration to people living in the swamps of poverty and ignorance, below the arching orbits.”
You and I increasingly understand the tragic fact that many men and women face change and death without feeling any deep social anger. There is a place in our ministry, an essential place, for profound emotion when we see a world which we might attain slipping from our grasp because good people, in their exhaustion, are stripped of their proper wrath. What some of my African friends in Kenya and Ghana call “anemic Christianity” – that bastard version of the original message that washes out all passion and leaves so many of our people impotent, also infects Los Angeles and Boston. Can we Unitarians not equal the fury of the Black Muslims (however much we repudiate their nationalist philosophy), as we count the uncashed promises of four hundred years of Negro oppression? I think we should. I bitterly resent the image of the white man formed by these centuries of oppression and so zealously maintained by Barnett, Eastland and Bull Connor to this hour.
Certainly in an era of “playing it cool,” of avoiding the dialogue of controversy and judgment, it is our unique responsibility as religious liberal to bear testimony to the role of legitimate feeling in advocacy of political change. Nothing significant is accomplished without the energy that is generated from human emotion. There is no contradiction between passion and rationality, as we should have learned long since from Sam Adams and Tom Paine. The church is indeed a place for dialogue, but not for dialogue bereft of profound human passion. We meet people every day who seem not to care whether mankind lives or dies within the next twenty-hours, but we know well that their apathy will not save us from our present jeopardy. William Lloyd Garrison knew a century ago and Martin Luther King today in Alabama certainly knows the necessity for surging emotion in the most rational of programs for social reconstruction.
Are we whistling against the wind as we speak of hope and of the transformation of a world in mid-passage? I do not know the answer any better than you do. I often remember those tough words of C. Wright Mills, “He who cannot withstand the world collapse of all his hopes will never enter the kingdom of his own self.” It may have been better said by Stoics of Asia and the Mediterranean world centuries ago, but I find it significant coming from an American professor, who until his death labored persistently for the humanistic and the political freedom of all men, including the men and women of Cuba.
In all honesty, I see more of hope than do many of my contemporaries. I do not consider Dr. Harrison Brown of Caltech a dreamer or a fool when he says, “Strong arguments can be presented to the effect that collectivization of humanity is inevitable, that the drift toward an ultimate state of automatism cannot be halted, that existing human values such as freedom, love and conscience must eventually disappear. Certainly if we used the present trends in industrial society as our major premises, the conclusion would appear to be inescapable. Yet is it not possible that human beings can devise ways and means of escaping danger and at the same time manage to preserve those features of industrial civilization which can contribute to a rich full life? Solutions, if they exist, can arise only in the hearts and minds of individual men.”
Emergence of the 80%
If some men argue that history reports dismal failure in the political arena about which I am speaking, I would remind you that history is an account usually written by the beneficiaries of the status quo, not by the eighty percent excluded from its privileges. Plato’s andropoda – the human-footed animals, the slaves – did not leave their records. But we live in the century of the emergence of the eighty percent. This truth, added to the fact that, for the first time in human civilization, an economy of plenty and not of scarcity is possible, gives reasonable cause for a fresh assault upon those ancient enemies, hunger, disease, ignorance, and unremitting toil. I don’t need to tell any of you, my colleagues, that victory over these ago-old foes must be won before the good life of the spirit we so properly advocate as ma’s birthright can be achieved.
While it is sadly true that two-thirds of mankind still lives on very meager terms the two thirds do know, without celestial promises, that another way of life is possible, and this is making all the difference. Gerard Piel, the editor of The Scientific American, has convinced me that American agriculture now yields enough to feed billion persons an adequate daily ration. He says,” Our abundance as a great industrial nation is dodged, minimized and concealed as well as squandered, burned and shut down.” But the word is out, and the nations of the world know it. I speak of these matters, brethren, because, if we feel any fire of indignation and compassion in our bones, these statistics are inescapable data for our ministry, fifty-two weeks of the year. The schizophrenia of an affluent economy that maintains the mythologies of scarcity cannot long endure. I have met students and leaders from Asia, African and Latin American countries, many of them young enough to be my children, and they will settle neither for an earth scorched with atomic fire not for one peopled with children with empty bellies. The secrets of tool-making and communications are now in possession of a hundred nations. In our own cities, the unemployment of millions of workers and the fear of annihilation have awakened many long asleep. The dialogue of brotherhood has been resumed. The political task becomes urgent and demanding.